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Happy Hangover for Angels

Baseball: They get warm welcome after clinching playoff spot; most regulars sit out loss to Seattle.

September 28, 2002|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

And, on the day after, they rested.

Most of the Angels did, anyway, one day after they clinched the team's first playoff berth in 16 years. Manager Mike Scioscia gave most of the regulars the day off Friday and gave his starting pitchers the weekend off, and the rest of the roster completed an enjoyable if thoroughly inconsequential 7-6 loss to the Seattle Mariners before a spirited sellout crowd of 43,452 at Edison Field.

The heroes wore red, and the names on the back of the uniform did not matter, at least for one night. The Angels suffered for so many years, in the shadow of the Dodgers and under the weight of their own futile history, that the players are genuinely appreciative of the sudden wave of fan support.

"People believe in us, finally," outfielder Tim Salmon said. "That says a lot."

For the Angels, there were issues to address Friday, off the field. The players voted how to split their pool of playoff bonus money. The coaches, scouts and executives met to discuss the playoff roster and scouting reports on the New York Yankees, the opponent in a best-of-five series that starts Tuesday. Everyone took home souvenir caps and T-shirts commemorating the Angels' playoff appearance.

The bleary-eyed players were more than happy to share stories of the rowdy celebration Thursday, starting in the clubhouse after clinching in Texas and continuing at 35,000 feet. But they couldn't stop expressing their amazement and gratitude for the reception that awaited them upon their return.

These are the Angels, remember. They have played for so long in a ballpark where they heard cheers for the Yankees, or the Dodgers, or the beach balls bouncing onto the field and along the warning track.

For so long, the Angels fell in September, the way leaves fall from trees. Fans weary of a summer tease gave up hope. Finally, the Angels stormed through September, and their long-suffering fans rewarded them.

When the Angels landed at Long Beach Airport Thursday, some 300 fans awaited them. When the buses arrived at Edison Field, at 10 p.m., some 300 more were waiting there.

"It's taken me 10 years to see something like that," Salmon said.

In between, Anaheim police escorted the buses on the Garden Grove Freeway, police choppers and a news helicopter circling above, shining floodlights on the buses. The players tuned in to the live TV coverage, watching Southern California watch them.

"It's good to see them cover something like that," pitcher Al Levine said, "besides a police chase."

There were highlights Friday. Phenom Francisco Rodriguez, in his home debut, struck out his first four batters, five of seven in all. Third-string catcher Sal Fasano, in his first inning in the major leagues this season, threw out two runners, including Ichiro Suzuki. For Seattle, Edgar Martinez hit the game-winning home run in the 12th inning.

Second baseman Adam Kennedy said he understood how fans responded to the Angels, then and now.

"I'm a California fan myself. I'm the same way," he said. "You have to win to bring people to the games. You can't blame them. Everybody wants to root for a winner. Hopefully, this is a start."

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